James Fallows writes:

Counting the new Republican Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts, the 41 Republicans in the Senate come from states representing just over 36.5 percent of the total US population. The 59 others (Democratic plus 2 Independent) represent just under 63.5 percent. (Taking 2009 state populations from here. If you count up the totals and split a state’s population when it has a spit delegation, you end up with about 112.3 million Republican, 194.7 million Democratic + Indep. Before Brown’s election, it was about 198 million Democratic + Ind, 109 million Republican.)

Let’s round the figures to 63/37 and apply them to the health care debate. Senators representing 63 percent of the public vote for the bill; those representing 37 percent vote against it. The bill fails.

To add even more perspective, if you were to take the (admittedly odd) view that rather than 60% of Senators, you’d need Senators representing 60% of America voting in favor to pass a bill, then you could get there with the 51 most liberal Senators. And if you only needed Senators representing 51% of America, then you could get there with just the 37 most liberal Senators.

Now obviously, you make laws with the Constitution you have, and not the one you might want to have or wish to have. But in trying to make broad statements about the mood of the country, or what bills the people will tolerate, or things like that, it’s worth remembering the above. A majority of Americans voted for legislators to the House and the Senate who would pass with no hesitation a bill that’s far more progressive than the Senate offering.

The right response to the institutions we have is to ask what can be accomplished and how. But to read backward from that what-can-be-accomplished something about what “most Americans” want makes no sense at all.


  1. Doug says:

    By “Most Americans,” most Americans mean “I.”

  2. Mixner says:

    Since polls have consistently shown for some time now that only a minority of Americans favor the health care reform bills, it’s hard to see how this represents a failure of democracy.

  3. Alex says:

    I’m sure everyone in CA supports health care reform because they have two Democratic senators.

  4. Aaron says:

    The Senate is not the House. Stop trying to make it like the House. We have a Senate for very good reasons. (One is not letting the large states hold the small states hostage. Remember Federalism?)

  5. Roger says:

    There is only one thing in the entire Constitution which may not be changed by amendment. Just one:

    Article V:
    “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution…which… shall be valid to all intents and purposes…provided that …no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”

    So you can’t even amend it out!

  6. Mike in NYC says:

    Pure silliness.

    Margins of victory in elections are more than a bit relevant. You can “represent” a constituency with 50.001% of the vote in a two-way race.

    The old senatorial lineup here in NYS (Schumer and Clinton) was more liberal than at least two-thirds of the state’s voters. Clinton’s replacement Gillibrand was originally a centrist, but has been forced to move leftward by her party. I assure you that NYS’s voting public has not shifted its political stances accordingly.

  7. Fritz says:

    The argument was not about the sentiments of the voters, it was about representatives in a representative democracy. The representatives supporting health care represent that portion of the population according to our system.

  8. Mike in NYC says:

    Fallows was presenting the numbers as if they reflected said voters’ sentiments. They don’t. Duh.

  9. Mixner says:


    You seem to have missed the point. The sentiments of the congressmen supporting the health care bills are not the sentiments of the voters they’re supposed to be representing.